We have had some clear nights recently, and clear skies are always a good time to do a little stargazing. One of the more easily recognizable constellations in the winter sky is Cassiopeia. There is also a good story here.
To find Cassiopeia, start with the big dipper. Find where the handle attaches to the bowl of the big dipper. Now visualize a line from that point, straight through the North Star to about the same distance on the other side and you will see you will see a prominent M or W depending on the time of night. That is Cassiopeia, sitting on her throne. Now, as Paul Harvey used to say, is the “rest of the story!”
In Greek mythology Cassiopeia was the wife of Cepheus and queen of Aethiopia (not Ethiopia), a country on the north coast of Africa. In the common vernacular, Cassiopeia was “Hot,” or at least she thought so. She made the mistake of bragging about her beauty and how she and her daughter Andromeda put the goddesses to shame.
As you may expect, some of those goddesses began to complain about her boasting to Poseidon, and begged him to punish her. So Poseidon sent a sea monster, Medusa, to destroy Aethiopia. King Cepheus was told that the only way he could prevent the destruction of his country was to sacrifice Andromeda. So Cepheus had her chained to a cliff by the sea where she was to be eaten by Medusa. However, Perseus, the nephew of the king of Argos, saw Andromeda chained to the cliff and was immediately smitten! So Perseus got permission from Cepheus and Cassiopeia to marry Andromeda if he could rescue her and kill Medusa, which he did.
Cephus and Cassiopeia then had second thoughts and tried to break the agreement even though Andromeda wanted to marry. To make sure the marriage did not happen, Cassiopeia sent armed men to attack the wedding party, but the effort failed. To punish Cassiopeia for her behavior Poseidon set her image in the sky. The constellation Cassiopeia is said to represent her chained to her throne. Her constellation is particularly interesting because it is located so close to the North Star she occasionally appears to be upside down, obviously not the dignified position befitting a queen.
Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Minot State University-Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.
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